Die Walküre

Christian Thielemann
Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
21 August 2010
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live   studio
  live compilation   live and studio
Siegmund Johan Botha
Hunding Kwangchul Youn
Wotan Albert Dohmen
Sieglinde Edith Haller
Brünnhilde Linda Watson
Fricka Mihoko Fujimura
Helmwige Miriam Gordon-Stewart
Gerhilde Sonja Mühleck
Ortlinde Anna Gabler
Waltraute Martina Dike
Siegrunde Wilke te Brummelstroete
Grimgerde Annette Küttenbaum
Schwertleite Simone Schröder
Roßweiße Alexandra Petersamer
Stage director Tankred Dorst
Set designer Frank Philipp Schlößmann
TV director Michael Beyer

Whenever a video recording of an opera shows the curtain calls at the end, I always watch them intently because they are a sort of review before the fact, especially if it’s a fairly sophisticated audience reacting, like those at the Bayreuth Festival. Indeed – you can generally discern not only which performers they liked, but the degree to which they liked the production. In this Opus Arte Blu-ray effort, you get to see curtain calls after each act, as well as eleven minutes of curtain calls at the end of the opera! The clapping and cheering goes on and on. The audience certainly approved of the proceedings.

Johan Botha, who portrayed Siegmund, got the biggest ovations by far – and he deserved them. Who was second? The conductor is Christian Thielemann, who is more and more emerging not only as a major Wagner interpreter, but as one of the most compelling conductors of the Beethoven symphonies in the world. His recent cycle on Unitel/CMajor was a great triumph, one of the most distinguished Beethoven cycles on record. In Die Walküre Thielemann is somewhat suave but fairly detailed in his approach, getting excellent playing from his orchestra and fine singing from the cast throughout. I should mention that both Edith Haller and Linda Watson have attractive voices and considerable vocal power, and along with Botha were a cut or so above most Wagner singers.

Yet, the production wasn’t a flawless affair: the sets were a bit dingy atmospherically, from Hunding’s hut to the Valkyries” rock. The costuming for most of the main characters was reasonably good, but the red outfits for the Valkyries, colorful though they were, had a sort of antiquated space-age look, the kind of thing you”d see in an old techni-color sci-fi B-movie. But these are relatively minor quibbles that don’t seriously detract from the performance. What I found odd was the appearance at the outset of a modern-day family who wander onto the stage as if to intrude on a page of history. A twelve- or thirteen-year-old boy from the family runs over to Sieglinde, pulls down her hood and then quickly flees, his unveiling serving to kick off the story. The father of the family can be seen later on reading a newspaper far in the background. What’s behind these anachronistic intrusions?

Ah! I think I get it: it suggests that modern-day man is neglectful of great art! That’s it! On the other hand, maybe the presence of the unmindful father and his family suggest the timelessness of this classic: it’s meaningful art even amid our mundane daily affairs. Whatever. But then, couldn’t you make such commentary in almost any good opera? Or couldn’t you have someone, uh, reading a newspaper in the background on stage during an instrumental concert? Or during performance of a Shakespeare play? Why during a Wagner opera?

Fortunately, this little dubious touch is rarely seen and rarely intrusive, and thus the performance can stand as a viable account of this great Wagner opera. The sound and camera work were both excellent. Other Die Walküre video efforts of interest include a 1991 Met production, led by James Levine on DG, featuring Gary Lakes as Siegmund and Jessye Norman as Sieglinde; and a Hartmut Haenchen-led Netherlands Opera production from 1999, featuring John Keyes as Siegmund and Nadine Secunde as Sieglinde. The latter recording may be a bit slick in its special effects (real fire on stage amid generally barren sets), but the former is a pretty excellent production, both in performances and the imaginative sets. Unfortunately, the video quality is, by today’s standards, second-rate. This Opus Arte Blu-ray production, available on DVD as well, is visually quite sumptuous and also competitive in most other respects. Recommended.

Robert Cummings | Copyright © 2011

Mostly Opera

have no doubt that this Bayreuth-Ring 2006-11, directed by Tankred Dorst will be known as The Thielemann Ring.

From the beginning, this Ring was planned for CD release only and released as a 14-CD boxset in 2009 with the doubful honour of being one of the strongest in terms of the conductor, as well as probably the weakest in terms of singers.

However, with the recent explosion of the DVD-operatic market it probably makes sense for the Bayreuth Festival to try and distribute it.

Tankred Dorst was universically criticized for lack of ideas and static concept upon the premiere in 2006. However, I saw the Ring in Bayreuth in 2007 and have to agree: The only highligt was Christian Thielemann. Who, on the other hand was stunning.

Dorst´s main idea that The Gods live amongst us,but we cannot see them and that man destroy nature are neither novel nor exciting. Admittedly, his preparations were not optimal, having had to take over after the cancellation from Lars von Trier. But nevertheless, a Bayreuth Ring is a Bayreuth Ring and this Ring was disappointing. I have previously written a comprehensive review of the entire Dorst-Thielemann Ring including a detailed description of the staging.

Edith Haller took over Sieglinde´s part from the previous years Eva-Maria Westbroek and Adrianne Pieczonka, and though somewhat weak in expression she has a truly beautiful voice with a wonderful bloom and seems to raise easily over the orchestra. Johan Botha has a large, effortless voice, but for the rest I completely agree with the message he got from the Intendant of the Vienna State Opera. Both Albert Döhmen and Linda Watson performs in accordance with Tankred Dorst´s staging: Neither spectacular nor disastrous. While Mihoko Fujimura does not have a large, dramatic voice, it is very beautiful.

Christian Thielemann is the true revelation of this DVD and, indeed, hearing him conduct this Ring in Bayreuth was one of the major operatic experiences I have had. The glittering beauty, the broad tempi, the subtle changes in tempi. It becomes quite clear, however, how the acoustics of the Bayreuth Festival House with the covered pit actually works against the explosive and contrapunctual nature of the Ring and if you a a conductor don´t work against it, you risk to lose the momentum and make it sound like Parsifal. This, however, does not seem to bother Thielemann, who in fact conducts this Walküre much as he does Parsifal. Nevertheless, together with Daniel Barenboim, no conductor today has a better understanding of Richard Wagner.

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Johan Botha: 2
Albert Döhmen: 3
Edith Haller: 3-4
Linda Watson: 3
Mihoko Fujimura: 4

Christian Thielemann: 5
Tankred Dorst´s production: 2-3

25 February 2012


There are only a couple of reasons to hear this performance, and practically none for seeing it. I believe it is the only video remnant of the Ring Cycle at Bayreuth that was created by Tankred Dorst in 2006 when the Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier dropped out at the next-to-last moment. One shudders at what von Trier might have done–he of the natural-lighting, shaky-camera school of film-making; but whereas he might have irritated, I’m afraid that Dorst, who had never directed an opera before and was 78 years old in 2006, is just dull and somewhat puzzling. Without having seen the rest of the Cycle, I’m a bit reluctant to judge the blandness and seeming “huh?-ness” of this production; but I shall report what I’ve seen, hints of sub-texts and all.

Act 1: Curtain up in mid-storm and we see a large, ruined, mostly-empty gray room save for a few chairs and a downed electrical power pole having broken through the wall. (Sets are by Frank Philipp Schlössmann.) Close examination locates a sword in the power pole. A present-day family (parents, kids, bicycle) has taken refuge from the storm, and as it abates and the parents leave, the young son sneaks up to a chair covered in a sheet, tears away the sheet, and voila!: Sieglinde in regular, if unattractive housewife garb.

Boy runs away. Siegmund waddles in wearing a tunic apparently made of torn pieces of leather and fabric. Hunding arrives with five men wearing snarling dog masks which they remove; they take seats, stage rear. Hunding doesn’t seem like such a bad guy and offers Siegmund a cup of water, which the latter prefers poured into his hands (he later accepts a cup from his sister). Wotan appears later, peeking through a window. Subtext: The gods and demi-gods live among us and Sieglinde has been domesticated, unlike her wild brother. Wotan knows what’s going on.

Act 2: After opening moments and battle cry, during which stage is dramatically awash in clouds and smoke and Wotan is standing atop a rock with Brünnhilde, clouds clear and we are back in “reality” in a huge warehouse with giant broken statuary that looks like Communist-era propaganda–workers with raised fists, etc. Two men in blue overalls and hard-hats come and go–repair men, clearly–while one of the regular folk from the start of Act 1 sits near his bicycle, reading a newspaper and chatting with passers-by. Subtext: The gods may be deciding our fate and being miserable, but our lives go on–their story is not the only story; they, like Communism, are last year’s issues.

Act 3: A bigger, ruined, slate gray edifice, walls crumbling. Heroes draped in white chiffon lie about until touched by the long spears of the Valkyries, at which time they get up and walk slowly off-stage, except for one, who remains, stage rear, hanging over a wall. When the time comes, Brünnhlide reclines on a long plank and goes to sleep; as the fire rises (and looks good), Wotan vanishes in a cloud of smoke. Subtext: None that I can spot other than everywhere you go, the world is in ruins, but the gods go on as if what they are doing actually matters. The white chiffon may imply ghosts, but who knows?

Costumes (by Bernd Ernst Skodzig) are the aforementioned torn-tunic thing for Siegmund, house-dress for Sieglinde, long black coat for Wotan, and fire-engine red dresses for all Valkyries, each with one pointy shoulder (Brünnhilde’s is the biggest and pointiest). Their hair is also fire-engine red and they carry plexiglass shields and 10-foot-tall spears. Fricka is in black and wears ram’s horns on her head; her costume looks stiff and unyielding. What the costumes have in common is ugliness.

The staging throughout is uneventful, with the occasional nice touch–the way the siblings warm to one-another immediately and size each other up–but it is more frequently chilly and disinterested. The Todesverkundegung is bland. There is little movement, other than generic operatic.

Vocally, the stars are Johan Botha and Edith Haller as the twins. He cuts an ungainly figure but sings Siegmund just about perfectly; there’s power to spare, he sings off the text, his soft singing is appropriate and touching. Haller has a warm sound and uses legato like a bel cantist; the occasional high note may fly sharp, but she’s both exciting and committed. Kwangchul Youn’s Hunding is black-voiced but poorly directed: he does not menace. Mihoko Fujimara is over-singing, but she’s nicely full of spite as Fricka.

Linda Watson’s Brünnhilde certainly has the power and the notes but she’s an old-fashioned actress, looks terrible in her awful costume, and lacks warmth and legato in the Todesverkundegung. She pleads well with Wotan in Act 3 but it’s still hard to actually believe her or warm to her steely, non-distinctive sound. Albert Dohmen’s Wotan moves from committed to disinterested; without a concept–other than “life stinks”–he’s at sea much of the time.

Conductor Christian Thielemann and the Bayreuth Orchestra create a ravishing wall of sound, and not a moment is less than aurally stunning: you listen, agape. And Thielemann’s timings are not eccentric: 60 minutes, 87 minutes, and 69 minutes. However, there are few dramatic thrills in the first two acts. The tension that should accompany the twins’ enlightenment never quite reaches a boiling point; the long Wotan/Brünnhilde dialogue of Act 2 is pretty boring. The return of Sieg and Sieg brings some excitement, but there’s an odd lack of build-up to the battle. Warm, intimate moments come off well, save for the Announcement of Death; “Wintersturme”, et al, is lovely and caressing. Act 3, on the other hand, is spectacular, with the Ride a tower of strength and power and the orchestra making up for the dynamism, beauty, and tragedy that is lacking in the singing.

With the fascinating Boulez/Chereau and the almost ideally sung, played, and acted Barenboim/Kupfer–both from Bayreuth–available on DVD, this is superfluous. Perhaps audio-only might be worth it for Thielemann’s and the orchestra’s contributions, but I can’t imagine watching this again.

Artistic Quality: 6
Sound Quality: 10

Robert Levine


This is from Bayreuth’s recent Ring cycle, acclaimed for Christian Thielmann’s massive but vigorous reading and some appreciable singing. Tankred Dorst’s production, however, attracted less enthusiasm. The sets, reflecting the blue-grey and orange hues of the Festpielhaus foyer, create some striking stage pictures – Hunding’s derelict salon; Wotan surveying a sea of mist, dotted with sinister Soviet-style sculptures; the Valkyries’ Rock a deserted quarry. Unfortunately Dorst’s concept – that the gods play out their epic downfall invisibly, among everyday people – turned out more distracting than convincing. Video director Michael Beyer downplays the mortal intruders; but this throws the emphasis on something else German critics loathe – that Dorst accepts Wagner’s mythical dimension at face value. His gods are superhuman yet fallible, rather than Brecht-style gangsters.

Johan Botha as Siegmund is ungainly, yet gives this dark character unusual innocence and a voice both clarion and lyrical – though occasionally behind the beat, perhaps from Bayreuth’s notorious acoustic delay. Edith Haller’s creamy-voiced Sieglinde is even more heartfelt. Kwangchul Youn is resonant but a dull dog of a Hunding; Mihoko Fujimura’s Fricka unimpressive, and, like Linda Watson’s Brünnhilde, unflatteringly costumed. Watson is more powerful than Anne Evans on Barenboim’s Bayreuth recording, but less passionate, and mature of aspect; her Valkyrie sisters are more spirited. Albert Dohmen’s voice isn’t large, but delivery and acting make him a powerful Wotan.

Michael Scott Rohan | 20 January 2012

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Opus Arte
Opus Arte
Technical Specifications
1920×1080, 2.3 Mbit/s, 4.0 GByte, German subtitles (MPEG-4)
Bayreuth festival 2010